As the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) marked its 25th anniversary, numerous commemorative events took place to celebrate the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) on 17 June. Various initiatives announced on the Day, which was themed ‘Lets Grow the Future Together,’ focused on advancing sustainable land management (SLM) and achieving the UNCCD’s target of land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030.
Achieving LDN by 2030 is also part of SDG target 15.3.
Addressing the World Day observance event in Ankara, Turkey, Bekir Pakdemirli, Turkey’s Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, commended the more than 100 countries that have set voluntary targets to achieve LDN. He highlighted the contribution of his country’s Ankara Initiative in fostering partnerships with African countries, stressing that “desertification does not recognize borders.” UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw observed that the estimated economic cost of land degradation is nearly USD 20 trillion a year. Thiaw said humanity must take action to “repay our debt to nature and restore our land,” and called for integrated actions to enhance, inter alia, agricultural production and livelihoods for smallholder farmers, climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable urbanization development and gender equality.
The global observance included a tribute to the late Hama Arba Diallo, the UNCCD’s first Executive Secretary. It also unveiled the recipients of the biennial ‘Land for Life’ Award, which recognizes innovative and inspiring initiatives to recover and restore degraded landscapes. The first prize was awarded to the MERET project of the Ministry of Agriculture of Ethiopia, which has contributed to the restoration of more than 2.5 million hectares of degraded watersheds around the country since the 1970s, contributing to food security and poverty reduction. Two land restoration champions were also recognized in the 2019 Awards. Mathieu Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso received an award for his lifelong commitment to promoting contour stone bunds – a simple water harvesting technique combined with zaï planting – to enhance livelihoods of farmers in the Sahel region. Yun Da, incumbent head of the Department of Finance of Tibet Autonomous Region, was recognized for his role in overcoming technological challenges to plant trees in the high-altitude Nagqu area of Tibet, helping to create nearly 300,000 forest-related jobs in the region.
India, which will host the 14th session of the UNCCD’s Conference of the Parties (COP 14) in New Delhi, in September 2019, convened a national workshop on the LDN Target Setting Programme, as a “formal curtain raiser” for COP 14. Participants at the multi-stakeholder expert consultation discussed voluntary LDN targets and a “legacy programme” to be launched at COP 14. Unveiling the COP 14 logo, India’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javedkar, emphasized his government’s dedication to improving soil health, restoring degraded lands as means for increasing farmer’s income, building climate change resilience, and improving water management with a focus on the most degraded and vulnerable landscapes.
Around the world, numerous WDCD events took place to assess progress in combating degradation and raise public awareness on SLM and the LDN target. Events in Africa included tree-planting activities in Nigeria, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire, and national-level workshops and academic events in Egypt, Somalia, Cameroon, Algeria and Guinea-Bissau. In China, an International Symposium in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia explored ways to adapt science and research to the needs of sustainable development and strengthen the development of, and exchanges among, top professional talent to develop solutions for desertification and land degradation as well as ecological sustainability.
As part of a national workshop to highlight successful practices to achieve LDN and present some initiatives on soil resource development organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand, a training workshop for community leaders and farmers took place with support from the the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Small Grants Project.
Several countries commemorated WDCD 2019 by launching local projects. In Bhutan, a SLM technology park was launched at the Yusipang renewable natural resource research centre. Sri Lanka launched a rehabilitation programme to convert 100 acres of land severely degraded by bole clay mining into an eco-tourism attraction in the village of Dediyawala, Diyagama. Celebrating WDCD as a team for the first time, staff of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, planted 300 flowers in front of the hospital building and installed watering pots and bird feeders.
Events in Europe included: a research symposium in Austria addressing land degradation and SDGs, that included the launch of the recently published World Atlas of Desertification; a visit to the GEF project site in Gardabani Municipality in Georgia to showcase the role of LDN in supporting ecosystem functions and services as well as enhancing food security; the 2019 Annual Meeting on Soil Science organized by the Portuguese Society of Soil Science, which presented and discussed a set of communications under the theme ‘Soil – a priority target to combat desertification’; and a UNCCD exhibition at the MIGRAFRICA event in Cologne, Germany, that included quizes and competitions to in different languages to raise awareness on land and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In Rome, Italy, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), in collaboration with the Government of the Netherlands, organized the second International Seminar on Drought and Agriculture on the theme, ‘Counting crops and drops: let’s grow the future together.’ The seminar showcased how water resources assessment and monitoring, through the use of novel technologies, can reduce the vulnerability of rural communities. The event included a practical demonstration of WaPOR, FAO’s portal to monitor water productivity through open-access of remotely sensed derived data.
In other initiatives launched on WDCD 2019, TMG Think Tank for Sustainability launched a website that gathers innovative solutions to protect soils and empower people, with a focus on addressing institutional barriers and other “enabling environment” drivers for SLM. The website builds on research undertaken as part of a project to promote green innovation centers for the agriculture and food sector, funded by Germany’s One World No Hunger Initiative. The site presents research findings under three broad themes: transdisciplinary research approaches to strengthen soil innovations and adaptive management; innovations in promoting participatory agricultural extension services; and strengthening women’s land rights. Highlighted innovative projects include: community-led land leases in Kenya; voluntary land consolidation in Ethiopia; securing land access for women in Burkina Faso; and communal land management in India.
The London-based Fast Forward 2030 Initiative, which promotes business models that contribute to achieving the SDGs, organized a discussion on how entrepreneurs can help to prevent deforestation, combat desertification and protect biodiversity.
WDCD was declared by the UN General Assembly in 1995 and is observed each year on 17 June to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification.